“You fit the description of someone we’re looking for . . .”
“Congratulations. You’ve made it to UCLA, but you’re having trouble sleeping because you’re used to sirens and helicopters.”

These are just a few of the realities African American and Latino students say they face in a typical “day” in South Los Angeles.

These revelations of what young people feel came out during a three-hour youth forum held last Thursday evening at the offices of the Community Coalition. The young people–members of South Central Youth Empowered Through Action (S.C.Y.E.A.) held the event to release the results of a survey they conducted and to seek solutions to the problems uncovered.

The survey of 6,000 high school students from Crenshaw, Dorsey, Fremont, Jordan, Locke, Manual Arts, and Washington Prep was particularly startling for two key reasons, said Cheryl Grills, chair of the psychology department at Loyola Marymount University. Grills has been working behind the scenes with the Community Coalition since its inception.

“Every time I share the study with colleagues, they go into shock,” explained Grills to those attending the forum. “When they hear how many students voluntarily participated in the survey, they are amazed. It’s not common (to have so many responses). We’re happy as social scientists, if we get 200 or 300 people.”

The second shocking fact is the seriousness of the problems youth face in South Los Angeles, added Grills.

“We did not expect the magnitude or such clarity or the fact that the problems weighed so heavily on them that it caused the youth to feel depressed.”

In fact, the majority (53 percent) of the 6,000 high schoolers surveyed reported symptoms commonly associated with depression, according to the survey results.

Grills said at a follow-up summit, two-thirds of youth invited (52) gave responses to questions that met criteria for clinical levels of depression.

Among the other top findings in the survey are:

* Only 27 percent of students felt safe at school;

* Less than half (46 percent) feel their school prepares them for college or a high-paying job after graduation;

* Preparation for the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) was one of the top three concerns, and 41 percent were neutral or disagreed that their schools prepared them to pass the CAHSEE;

* Sixty-five percent of students want schools to offer more classes in African American and Latino studies;

* And finally, when asked about the “push-out/dropout” crisis, 73 percent of students knew someone who had dropped out since ninth grade, 30 percent knew six or more people who had dropped out, and only one-third (28 percent) felt their school was focused on solving the dropout crisis.

During the Thursday forum, the leadership and creative potential of the students was evident. Not only did members of S.C.Y.E.A. plan the event but in the breakout sessions, they led the discussions and prodded their peers to come up with potential solutions and action steps to move the solutions forward.

In one breakout session about safety, the young people created a game called Safetopoly that eloquently depicted some of the perils they face on the daily trek from home to school.

“I got the idea from brain storming, explained 16-year-old Luis Garcia, the game’s chief creator.

“We wanted something fun and interactive, and someone said monopoly. Since the topic was safety, I came up with Safetopoly,” said the Fremont High School sophomore.

During the game, students like Mykel Crumble rolled a giant die (made of a corrugated box) and had to safely bypass liquor stores, police officiers, jail, the school’s physical education field, and random chance acts, in order to make it safely back home. On the high end of the game, there was college which one of the four youngsters achieved. On the low end was death, to which Crumble and one student succumbed.

“The game was sort of cool. It is sort of what happens–some of it was real, but some was not,” said Crumble, a 16-year-old Manual arts student, who is a member of the S.C.Y.E.A club on her campus. She joined because she wanted to help improve her school. “I want to go to college; I don’t want to fall through the cracks.”

The goal of the survey is the same as their organization, explained S.C.Y.E.A. members Mariela Martinez, 16, and Joseph Walker, 16–they want to make sure the student voice is heard, when people talk about improving their schools; they want to make sure the student voice is heard, when it comes to teacher quality; and they want to break down the stereotype that students are not motivated, are lazy, and just want to act out.